The change is in the air: mornings are a little nippy, the sky is that perfect shade of blue you don’t see in the summer heat. Leaves are starting to change, especially at higher elevations. Today, we went out to one of the local Environmental Education Centers for their FallFest. I love the sights and smells of being out in the trees and near the brooks… and today, we met Artie the Screech Owl and Ophelia the Barred Owl … and paid a visit to Aries, another Barred Owl. Ophelia and Aries have similar stories. In the winter, when snow gets deep, bird of prey, like owls, hunt closer to the roads. This tends to bring them way too close to cars moving a high speeds. Aries lost one wing totally. Ophelia lost the tip of one. Same result: neither can hunt or survive on their own in the wild. Now they help teach about their place in the ecosystem, and why habitat conservation is so important. Artie, whose species is the second smallest owl in New York, came in very, very ill… Did YOU know owls can get sinus infections? A veterinarian saved his life, but he has a bum wing, and also wouldn’t survive on his own.
Most people think of wildlife rehabilitation, and think of the birds of prey, the raccoons, the squirrels, the fox kits….but there is a lady who comes every year to the fest who focuses on reptiles. That’s right, she’s the one people call when they find snakes where snakes shouldn’t be. Most of them, she patches up and returns to the wild. Some snakes, however, know when they’ve got a good thing going. There are two that show up on her porch every fall, waiting for her to take them in to warm dens for the winter. Smart little critters!
As humans ooze out from the cities and more and more land is developed, there are more and more cases of crossing paths with wild animals. Just look at how many cases of bears wandering into human neighborhoods have been in the news lately! And a few years ago, we had a MOOSE in the cities around here. Peregrine Falcons have adapted, now nesting under bridges and on buildings.
To keep these meetings safe for both sides, get to know what animals, birds and reptiles are native to your area. This is ESPECIALLY true for snakes and spiders. If you come face to face, back away slowly. Even if you can identify it, do NOT mess with it. Call the state Environmental department. (For New York, that’s DEC, or Encon. For Pennsylvania, it’s DEP ) They will be able to find someone who can remove a nuisance animal without that creature getting hurt… or any humans getting hurt.
If you live in a buffer area… someplace where there are a lot of woods…. DO NOT leave trash outside. Don’t feed your pets outside. Don’t leave your pets outside alone. And if you want to feed the birds/squirrels… put the feeders well away from your house or garage. If you have a pet door… get one of those with the special collars that open the door for the animals. My uncle used to leave the patio door opened just enough for the farm cats to come and go at will… until the night he found a SKUNK in the KITCHEN, calmly eating from the cats’ bowls, and the poor cats all lined up on the other side of the room, looking as if a monster had invaded. (Cats, by the way, are MUCH smarter than dogs about skunks and porcupines. Dogs will get to close, in the name of investigation. Cats will keep their distance in the name of safety )
Enjoy the progression of the year as it winds down into Winter’s sleep. BUT: when walking in the woods, wear well-made sneakers or hikers, not sandals. Long pants and long sleeved shirts, not shorts and halters. Use insect repellent. When you get back, check for ticks. If you had your pet with you, check them for ticks even more carefully that you checked yourself (they have more fur). Take lots of pictures, but nothing else.
Until the next time: Bendith!